Late last night, or rather early this morning, I finished reading Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. I purchased this book with nothing to go on but my interest in WWII history and satisfaction with other works by Erik Larson - notably Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm. I was not disappointed.
Those seeking a more shocking account of the atrocities committed during the war might be disappointed, for this book tells the story of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and his family during Hitler's rise to power. Ambassador Dodd was not the popular choice for the post, and his daughter Martha's zest for romantic encounters and her generally free spirit raised some eyebrows. She cavorted with young Nazi officers and a Russian spy alike, and it's worth noting that it is a mark of her time that her character is called into question for merely behaving almost as brashly as the men around her. Ultimately, Martha and Ambassador Dodd see the true and horrific nature of Hitler and his party and disassociate with them as much as possible while still in Germany. Dodd refused to attend Nazi rallies, making enemies at home and abroad as he chose to do the difficult but morally correct thing and uphold the values of democracy and freedom.
In this text, Larson paints a vivid account of what living in Germany was like during Hitler's rise, and begins to answer the question that so many have asked: how could so many people follow such a fascist, evil regime? In an honest account of the strengths and weaknesses of Germany, readers can begin to understand the depths of fear and control that permeated the country. Those who openly questioned Hitler's authority were killed, and while this doesn't justify the atmosphere of appeasement that occurred, it does explain it.
Once again, Larson's mastery of a flowing, narrative style to convey history, rich with cited primary sources, makes this book a page-turner. Now, on to Thunderstruck!